Joined: 27 Apr. 2001
From: Galashiels Selkirkshire United Kingdom
As we had some guests staying for the weekend, we decided it would be nice to plan a day out on Sunday. What would be the best thing to do in mid-November in Scotland (bearing in mind that the weather might not be in our favour, and we have a 6 year old girl to keep amused).
Fortunately one of our guests mentioned that she'd always wanted to visit the Royal Yacht Britannia - and since that is moored in Leith, near Edinburgh, only 30 miles up the road from where we live in the Scottish Borders, that seemed like an ideal solution.
Sunday came, and although much of the UK had been lashed by stormy weather that weekend, where we were the rain stopped and the sun came out - it wasn't even particularly cold or windy, so the drive up the A7 through the borders scenery to Edinburgh was lovely.
Leith is the docks area of Edinburgh which has been undergoing a transformation in recent years with many old warehouses demolished and posh new flats constructed. Restaurants and wine-bars are springing up to support the new population, and even a casino has opened.
The Royal Yacht exhibition is accessed through the Ocean Terminal shopping centre - so there is ample parking in the shopping centre's car parks.
The shopping centre itself is much like other UK Shopping centres - not particularly large, but with a decent range of shops.
The presence of the Royal Yacht attracts plenty of tourists, so the range of shops is slightly unusual to cater for this market - for example there's a Whisky Shop with a vast selection of Single Malts on offer.
After a quick stroll around the shops, we decided to have a bite to eat first of all. We've learned from experience that with a six year old, frequent top-ups with food are essential if domestic harmony is to be maintained - and we didn't want her getting hungry half way round the tour.
There are several cafe's within Ocean Terminal, including a Starbucks - but we opted for the Tiki Cafe - which had an excellent view over the water:
Bacon and Brie Panninis polished off, we were on our way.
A very strange thing about the entrance to Britannia is that it's on the second floor of the shopping centre! This is because although the Yacht itself is in the water, the tour works from the top down.
The entrance to the exhibition is very impressive:
There is an option to just buy tickets, or you can donate an equivalent amount to the trust that looks after the Yacht - which gives you a free annual pass: An excellent deal if you live close enough to return within 12 months.
The exhibition begins with a number of interesting displays, including the history of Royal Yachts: Among many fascinating facts, you learn that Britannia was the last in a long line of Royal Yachts - 83 in fact, stretching back to 1660 when the first Royal Yacht "Mary" was given to Charles II by the Dutch.
The original highly ornate carved and gilded Binnacle, originally made in 1817 for the yacht the Royal George is also in the exhibition
(the one on board the yacht is a replica) - and the wheel house is also shown within the exhibition area.
Very soon it's time to board the Royal Yacht itself.
We each received an audio guide which gives a commentary for each part of the ship that you visit. There is even a separate child's commentary available - which must be good because it held Emily's interest throughout our visit!
The different levels of the yacht are accessed from a large enclosed steel staircase built on the shore. This enables large numbers of visitors to take the tour - and provides better accessibility for disabled visitors (as there is also a lift).
Although this is a very popular attraction - especially in the peak summer season or during the Edinburgh Festival, on this Sunday in mid-November it was quite quiet, with just a few small groups of visitors making their way around the decks.
When in service, the Royal Yacht was commanded by an Admiral, with a crew of 19 officers and 200 yachtsmen drawn from the Royal Navy.
First stop on the tour is the Bridge.
With the chart room just behind.
On this deck we also saw the Flag Locker
and an explanation of the meanings of all the flags.
Then it was time to leave the ship, go down another level on the external staircase, and re-board - an ingenious system which works very well in practice.
On the next deck down, you come to the Admiral's Cabin - complete with Dining Table.
Also on this deck is a garage complete with Rolls Royce!
In later years, Britannia did not always carry a car, as most countries could provide something suitable - so the garage was converted to a beer store!
Further on you reach the Verandah Deck
with the Ship's Binnacle and Bell.
The decks themselves are in immaculate condition - they are made of 2 inch thick teak, and were scrubbed daily when the ship was in service.
The atmosphere on the Royal Yacht would have been very different to a typical Royal Navy vessel: The Yachtsmen had to work in silence when working near the Royal Family - and most orders were given by hand-signals. All work near the Royal Apartments had to be completed by 8am to minimise disruption to the Royal Family.
If a Yachtsman did encounter a member of the Royal Family they had to stand still, and look straight ahead. Yachtsmen did not wear caps when working near the Royal Apartments. This meant they were technically out of uniform, which according to protocol saved the Royal Family from having to return their salutes.
Also on the Verandah deck was the teak-lined sun-lounge, a favourite place of the Queen.
Walking through the sun-lounge, we came to the Royal Apartments, including the Queen's bedroom
and the Duke of Edinburgh's Bedroom
and the Honeymoon Suite.
If you are expecting Britannia to be a floating palace, full of glitz and gold, you may be surprised: These rooms are comfortably appointed - but not showy or opulent. Very much in keeping with the Queen's wish that the style of the Royal Yacht should be of "country house comfort", and nothing too formal or ostentatious.
Next, down another deck, we visited the Wardroom Ante-Room (and learned all about Wombat tennis)
and the Wardroom itself, which provided formal dining for the 19 officers on board Britannia.
Further on, you see the galleys and pantries where food was prepared, not only for the Royal Family, but also for all Britannia's distinguished visitors - heads of state from around the world.
The Silver Pantry is an impressive site:
- particularly when you hear that because of the exacting standards on board Britannia, every single item had to be polished every day!
Some galleys are still in use (and these are off limits to visitors) - as well as being a visitor attraction, Britannia is now used as the ultimate venue for corporate entertainment - and the food for the dinners and receptions is prepared on board.
The State Dining Room is a fantastic sight
- with a huge dining table that runs the length of the room, and could seat 32 people. This room has welcomed (and no doubt impressed) many of the key figures of the 20th century, including Churchill, Reagan, Thatcher, Madella, Clinton and Yeltsin.
It took many hours to lay this table for dinner - the standards were the same as in Buckingham Palace - the position of every plate, knife fork and spoon was precisely defined and measured with a ruler, to ensure that everything was perfect for the visiting heads of state.
We also saw the Queen's sitting room
actually mainly used as an office for carrying out her official paperwork, and the Duke's study.
The Drawing Room was a place where the Royal Family could relax, and perhaps play board games, or play the Grand Piano (once played by Noel Coward) which is bolted firmly to the deck.
We then progressed to seeing more of the crew's quarters, including the pub-like atmosphere of the Petty Officers Mess
and the similar but slightly more upmarket look of the Chief Petty Officers' Mess.
As you continue down the ranks, the accommodation becomes much more basic and cramped. Visting the Royal Marines Barracks we could see their sleeping quarters which are extremely basic for so many men.
The Royal Marines provided security for Britannia, including diving each day in search of bombs. One of their other duties was to form the Royal Marines Band - a vital part of any State Visit by Britannia. The band practiced every day, as they had to be able to play the National Anthem of any country in the world - note perfect.
Britannia had a sick bay, and even an operating theatre on board. For much of its life it was available to be converted into a hospital ship in case of war - a conversion that the Navy boasted could be completed within 24 hours!
Although never called upon for that role, in 1986 Britannia was pressed into service to evacuate over one thousand British nationals and others, fleeing the civil war in South Yemen. The State Dining Room and Drawing Rooms were cleared to accommodate the refugees.
We also had a chance to see the Laundry on board
- much larger than would be typical for a Navy ship of this size, due to the number of formal uniforms and changes of uniform required. The laundry could process up to 600 shirts per day. They made a small charge to cover costs.
We then had a chance to look at the outside of the ship
painted in a beautiful shade of dark blue which was chosen by the Queen in preference to the more usual black. Britannia also boasts a single line, painted along her side, in 24 carat gold, but her name does not appear.
By Britannia's side is the Royal Barge
in herself a magnificent craft, in which the Queen and other members of the Royal family would travel ashore from Britannia on Royal visits.
Our penultimate port of call was the engine room, which you can see from above through a glass partition.
An impressive array of machinery and gleaming brass, copper and paintwork. Apparently General "Stormin'" Norman Schwarzkopf remarked of this engine room: "Ok, I've seen the museum piece - now where's the real engine?" - but this fine example of British marine engineering, developing over 12,000 horsepower, and tended by 80 engineers in the crew, WAS the real engine that powered Britannia the equivalent of once round the world for each year of her distinguished service - over a million miles in all.
Having completed our tour, we went back up the stairs to the new Royal Deck Tearoom - which is beautifully appointed.
We were shown to a table by the window with spectacular waterfront views, and had afternoon tea. We can particularly recommend the Whisky Cake (which has quite a kick!). The tearoom even offers a choice of apple juice from three varieties of apple - Bramley, Cox's or Russet!
After a thoroughly enjoyable day, we left our regal surroundings (through the Gift Shop of course!) and returned (in a slightly surreal experience) to the hustle and bustle of a 21st Century Edinburgh shopping centre
and then home.
The Royal Yacht Britannia offers an excellent day out. If you enjoyed this trip report - why not visit the real thing next time you're in Edinburgh!